Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Stake President’s Perspective on Homosexuality

Dear brothers and sisters, I follow a blog entitled LDS (Mormon) Stake President’s LDS (Mormon) Stake President's Blog, written by President William Lilburn Godfrey Paternoster, a truly inspiring man with a gift for illuminating thorny issues in the (Mormon) Church.* 

A little over a week ago, President Paternoster wrote a probing and thought-provoking post on the subject of homosexuality, and I thought it – along with one of his follow-up comments – were deserving of being brought to the attention of any who follow or stumble across my blog.  I won’t quote the entire post and follow-up comment, but I wanted to include enough to whet your appetite.  I personally think President Paternoster’s post will go down in Bloggernacle history, and I urge you to read his entire post, along with all comments.  I also encourage you to leave comments both here and on President Paternoster’s blog.

“Often I hear complaints that the church is homophobic … In this post I will show that the church has always done its utmost to reach out to those suffering from homosexual tendencies in order to help them feel normal again …   

“I would first like to reiterate that the church has always taught that the practice of homosexuality is a choice and in many cases is a curable mental illness.  As a church we affirm that one can and must avoid homosexual relations ...  

“In President Kimball’s book the Miracle of Forgiveness, we learn of one of the key causes of homosexuality.  Keep in mind this book was written by a prophet of the Lord and is widely circulated today.  In fact whenever someone is struggling with sin I encourage them to read this book.  From it we learn that masturbation can and does lead to the act of homosexuality.  This is why we strongly discourage masturbation among our youth.  I have had to delay many prospective missionaries from serving full time missions over this very issue …

“We as a church have done all in our power to help those with these [homosexual] tendencies to change.  This is why I find it so upsetting when we are wrongly accused of being homophobic.  Take this as an example; At Brigham Young University we have had great success in the past with aversion therapy.  Participants with homosexual tendencies were fortunate to have had the opportunity to be cured by participation in this inspired program.  Basically we hooked participants [testicles] up so that they could be shocked with increasing amounts of electric voltage while showing them pornographic photos of men.  Afterwards they were shown heterosexual images while soothing music (probably from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir) was played in the background.  This and other efforts by the church clearly show the love we have and concern we show in helping gays become normal again.  I don’t know why the critics refuse to cite these instances in their attacks.  Those who criticize us ought to first do their research.  

“Now let’s discuss the origin of homosexuality … I was once asked this question; “if homosexuality is inborn then is the plan of salvation true?”  I responded absolutely not.  If homosexuality can be proven to be inborn then this church and the whole plan of salvation are man made.  It would show that our church leaders didn’t have a clue what they were talking about and were and are completely uninspired of the Lord, which obviously cannot be the case.  Here are three quotes from our latter-day prophets, seers and revelators to show this:

“1. Even as far back as 1976 the Lord inspired our leaders on this issue.  Here is what President Packer taught back then: ‘There is a falsehood that some are born with an attraction to their own kind, with nothing they can do about it. They are just 'that way' and can only yield to those desires. It is a malicious and destructive lie. While it is a convincing idea to some, it is of the devil …’

“2. President James E. Faust of the First Presidency said in 1995:  ‘There is some widely accepted theory extant that homosexuality is inherited. How can this be? … if it were so, it would frustrate the whole plan of mortal happiness … The false belief of inborn homosexual orientation denies to repentant souls the opportunity to change and will ultimately lead to discouragement, disappointment, and despair.’ 

“3. In the last General Conference (October 2010) President Packer confirmed: “Some suppose that they were preset, and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so. Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, he is our Father…..You can if you will, break the habits, and conquer the addiction, and come away from that which is not worthy of any member of the Church” …

“In conclusion I hope that I have shown in this post that the church does all it can to save sinners by ministering unto them individually.  This is no different for homosexuals …”

One of the first commenters on President Paternoster’s post, a Brother Porter, wrote as follows:  “I have been looking for some time for a clear statement such as this on the Church's policy.  My problem with your posting is that it focuses on statements made by the "hard liners" (such as Packer) but ignores seemingly conflicting recent statements by other general authorities such as Elder Oaks and Elder Holland? In 1996 Elder Oaks wrote: “Some kinds of feelings seem to be inborn. Others are traceable to mortal experiences. Still other feelings seem to be acquired from a complex interaction of 'nature and nurture.' All of us have some feelings we did not choose…Perhaps such susceptibilities are inborn or acquired without personal choice or fault…” (  How can we reconcile conflicting statements by current members of the twelve, all of whom are "prophets seers and revelators"? I try to follow the prophet, but our prophets don't seem to agree on the direction to go.”

President Paternoster’s reply to Brother Porter was memorable: 

“Brother Porter you bring forth some very important points. You have basically asked me how it is that true prophets of God can contradict each other (which they have done) and still expect to be sustained as the Lords spokesmen on the Earth.

“There is one thing I am going to say right now as a stake president that you will never hear from a general authority. I may get in trouble for saying it but it is important that members understand lest they should fall away.

“Listen very carefully; the church has firm doctrines in place, BUT taken out of context and without a mature understanding of the plan of salvation these doctrines occasionally make us look very peculiar to the outside world. We are a worldwide church and are in a position where we must also appease those who are not members of our faith. To use an analogy from the New Testament we do this with milk rather than meat. This is why we sometimes get conflicting information from our leaders. The article you sited is from "Newsroom" which is the official church resource for the public.

“What I am trying to say therefore is that we are obliged to show one face to our faithful members and another face to the public in order to maintain credibility in the world. If it were not so then our leaders would have already shown themselves to be frauds since their statements contradict one another.

“At general conference we hear true doctrine in all of its purity. On 'Newsroom' we give the public watered down versions of our teachings. This is clear from the example you gave where Elder Oaks wrote: “Some kinds of feelings seem to be inborn". Notice the difference in language between what we use at general conference and how we speak to the public. To the public we admit that some feelings seem to be inborn (we never said they ARE inborn, just that they seem to be). In GC with regards to inborn homosexuality our leaders state clearly and without equivocation "Not so. Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?"

“I would counsel you as a faithful member to always look at the 'official' General Conference statements as opposed to the 'official' public statements …” 

President Paternoster, my hat is off to you for the clear and revealing manner in which you have addressed these sensitive issues.  Dear readers, I would again urge you to read the original post and all comments on President Paternoster’s blog, and then read his other elucidating posts on a variety of timely and important subjects, such as the Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Stake President, another classic that is sure to be quoted approvingly in General Conference.

* N.B.:  President Paternoster also has a truly extraordinary gift for satire, which I hope all his readers will appreciate.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Voices: Falling Away

James is yet another gay Mormon man in a mixed-orientation marriage who wrote to me after reading the post last week about Dave ("Voices: Am Overwhelming Emptiness").  What follows is part of James’ story.  You will see that I have asked for input from readers.  Please reach out to James through your comments.  He could use our support.
“I am in my early 40’s, and my story is typical of others I have read about.  As you blogged this week in behalf of "Dave", I found myself reading the responses with great anticipation to finding the answer to my identical questions.  I must say that I found quite a bit of clarity within the responses; however, I'm still longing for someone to tell me that it will all be ok and that I will find favor with God pursuing a gay lifestyle.”

Question to Readers:  I would like to invite readers to share comments and their own experiences of how (a) they came to a point where they received assurance that God is “ok” with their gayness or (b) they came to a point where they decided they neither wanted or needed divine “approval” of their gay identity.

“I, like many of your readers, grew up knowing that I was different.  I wanted to be like the other guys who were so masculine and athletic but I always fell short.  I wanted to be attracted to women but it just didn't happen.  I, too, went on a mission after bargaining with the Lord that I would give him my very best for two years in order to be freed from the clutches of my gayness.  I worked my ass off and the day I left my mission, I knew it would never go away.  What a ginormous letdown.”

Question to Readers:  Did anyone else go on a mission with similar feelings, hoping that the mission experience would get ride of same-sex attraction?  What was your experience?

“I continued to keep my dark little secret, no one knew, but plenty of people speculated.  I attended BYU under the assumption that living in that controlled environment would help my situation.  It didn't, it made it worse.  I dated woman after woman, hoping to find someone who, if she found out my deep dark secret, would have some level of compassion and understanding.

“I never told my soon-to-be wife about my attraction to men.  I had the misguided belief that for this marriage to work I had to jump in, feet first and NEVER look back. 

Question to Readers:  I certainly had the same approach to marriage, believing that I had to give it my all, including my Self, in order for me to experience “success”, i.e., in spite of my gayness.  Can anyone else relate/share their experience?

“The woman I married was intellectual, stunningly beautiful, full of optimism and a very faithful Mormon.  Her father taught her to be loving and non-judgmental.  At the time I thought it was a perfect fit, especially if I ended up coming out of the closet: I figured that if she ever did find out about the real me, there would be some level of understanding and she would be successful at finding someone else.  I never told her about my attraction to me.  I deceived her and everyone else, including myself, all under the premise that if I followed the prophet, I wouldn't be led astray.  What a crock!

“About three years ago, a perfect storm formed and I just couldn't resist my natural urges anymore. I indulged in an unforgettable affair with an unforgettable man.  We fell in love.  He, too, was married but gay.  We sought opportunities to spend time together, fell in love and shared intimacy in a way neither of us had ever experienced. 

“Eventually, my wife discovered the affair and the identity of my lover.  She threatened to expose him to his wife if he ever contacted me again, and that was the end.  She then went to our bishop and our stake president and, not content to stop there, told her parents and her siblings and, for good measure, not one but two general authorities.  The closet door was flung wide open.  There I stood, naked, vulnerable, exposed and very, very frightened while feeling the enormous loss of losing the precious love I had discovered! 

“For her part, my wife was crushed, disappointed and heartbroken.  She thought that the “problem” was with her and that she had driven me to have a gay affair.  She begged me to stay for various reasons, none of them particularly healthy.  We seriously considered divorce; however, primarily for the sake of our children, for financial reasons and, particularly in the case of my wife, for the sake of appearances in our conservative, close-knit Mormon community, we decided to stay together.
“Two years later, I continue to live a double life filled with inauthenticity and deceit - knowing that I am gay but pretending to be something I’m not - in order to protect those around me from the pain, shame and disappointment that would come from me leaving the marriage.  As a result, I have dealt with extreme emotional despair including depression, raging anger, fear, hopelessness, more anger, injustice, betrayal by God, betrayal by the church, anxiety. . . . and so on.  I even considered driving my car under a semi truck on the freeway in order to escape the bone crushing pressure and pain.  But, as I thought of my children, I reconsidered and decided to stick around.

“Then there is the letting go of a testimony and tradition of the LDS church.  As a result of my wife's anger and her uncovering my secret, I was disfellowshipped from the church and remain soI have worked a life time to understand and embrace even when it flies in the face of all conscious reasoning and logic.  I was dedicated to the church in every way, one of its finest members by way of loyalty and service.  My testimony of the “church” is completely destroyed.  I have a testimony in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it relates to . . . well, Jesus Christ; however, anything institutional I just don’t buy into anymore.  How can something that is supposed to be so right be so corrupting and wrong? 

“I feel like this situation is impossible and that there is no good resolution.  There are other problems in our marriage that have contributed to an almost hopeless situation.  On some days I feel like giving up.  Honestly, I am not living my life day by day anymore; I am now hour by hour.  I have lost everything - career, homes, businesses, self confidence, self actualization.  The only thing I have going for me right now is my family.  On the one hand, I cannot bear to change my circumstances any more than they already are or are about to become.  On the other hand, both my wife and I are miserable. 

Question to Readers:  Have any of you come to the point where you knew you couldn’t go on “the way you weren’t” and, though seemingly insane and impossible, stepped or fallen through the looking glass into a world where your sexuality was finally accepted as a reality?

“During a recent, sleepless night, I lied in my bed, staring into the dark, contemplating how my life has fallen apart.  Then the thought came to my mind. . . ‘your life isn't falling apart, it's falling away.’  Since that time, I have pondered over these words that came to me, and I have thought of the quote by Anais Nin:

“And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

“So … here's to new beginnings … to taking that step off the edge into the abyss.  To finding meaning among all the devastation …”

James, this song is for you ...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Importance of the Journey

I used to have an art poster in my office that depicted a path through some woods with an inscription below that said, “Success is a journey, not a destination.” There was something about that thought that appealed intuitively to me.  However, though I tried to live by the message of that saying, I’m afraid that, for most of my adult life, I failed to live up to the ideal represented by it.

At some point during my journey through adulthood, I came to realize that I had learned certain survival patterns during my childhood that were attributable to the abuse and dysfunction I experienced within my family. One of those behavior patterns was to “get through” whatever life was throwing at me. The object was not to enjoy the journey, but simply to bear down and force my way through the difficulties I was experiencing at the time.

This survival pattern worked the way it was supposed to when I was a child and adolescent, i.e., it helped me to survive. Of course, this pattern wasn’t something I ever consciously thought about. Thus, when I carried it, parasite-like, into my adulthood, I wasn’t aware its presence and didn’t really discern the pattern until I was well into my marriage. 

It was only when, in the process of dealing for the first time in any meaningful way with the legacy of my abusive childhood, that I came to recognize this survival pattern and to dimly begin to understand the effect that this pattern had had on my adult life. What had worked for me as a child had turned on me as an adult; what had once been useful had turned into a cancer that had eaten away at my Self and, in consequence, my marriage and my family.

This “survival technique” was especially damaging when paired with the perfectionistic goals and behavior patterns I adopted after I joined the LDS Church. One of the main reasons I decided to be baptized was that I saw the Church as being able to provide me with everything I had not had as a child and adolescent, i.e., a perfect, happy, idyllic family, a life filled with purpose, a knowledge of absolute truth paired with the comfort of knowing that one’s life is in harmony with God’s will.

Thus, after joining the church, after getting married, I pursued these goals (in addition to my goal of ruthlessly smothering my gay nature) with relentless determination. Applying the same techniques I had learned as a child, I single-mindedly and doggedly did everything I was “supposed” to do in order to achieve these goals that I had adopted. Naturally, the LDS mindset of tending to view this life as merely a step toward the afterlife served to constantly feed oxygen to the fire of my zeal.

In the terms I have previously described, I “bore down” to get through whatever situation presented itself to me:  getting married, going through graduate school, working in my profession, serving in the Church, having children and dealing with the endless financial pressures that presented themselves along the way. 

In so doing, I didn’t “stop to smell the roses”; in fact, I didn’t even notice the roses, let alone stop to smell them. I didn’t focus on enjoying life; I didn’t know how. I didn’t focus on relationships. I didn’t savor life. I didn’t enjoy the journey. I had been focused on the “destination”, rather than the journey; and because I expected success to be the destination, I failed. Unfortunately, tragically, it wasn’t until years later that I realized that I had failed, because of my own inadequacies, weaknesses, and learned behavior patterns, to find the true path to “success” – which led not to some distant destination, but to the heart of the NOW.

It has only since starting the process of coming out that I have truly come to recognize this pattern in my life which was initially a survival mechanism but then turned into a poison that was administered in small doses day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. I now see – although not in totality, I’m sure – the effects of this poison. And it has only been since coming out that I have begun a process of purification to rid myself of these poisons and a process of preventative care whereby I reject old behavior patterns and instead embrace newer, healthier ones.

I have begun this process in my relationships with my children, particularly my older ones – of treating the journey as important as the destination, if not more so. I have already written on this topic as pertaining to my older children and will yet write more, I’m sure. As to my younger children, I’m enjoying spending time with them (such as I did this past Saturday) on my terms (i.e., not my wife’s terms), and it is amazing to me how different I feel when I’m with them at my place or out in the community, as opposed to when I’m back at the family home with them. I can’t put new wine in those old skins, so to speak; for when I’m back at the house, I feel old expectations, old behavior patterns, old responses. Places I do not want to go.

I have also begun this process in embracing those things which give my life texture and meaning, that feed my sense of Self. Things such as attending cultural events, like the community theatre production I saw on Friday night with a group of friends; or the organ recital I attended on Sunday afternoon; or such as – at long last – a concert at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, which I attended on Sunday night, drinking in Mozart and Bach in the darkened splendor of that edifice. What an experience!

Life is indeed a journey, one which is intended to be lived, not endured.

“All journeys have secret destinations
of which the traveler is unaware.”

- Martin Buber

“A person cannot approach the divine
by reaching beyond the human.
To become human is what this individual person
has been created for.”

- Martin Buber

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gay Gospel Doctrine Class - The Bread of Life

Today as I* write this entry, I have this overwhelming feeling of irritability, frustration and lack of patience.  I’m really not sure why I’ve felt like this all day, but it started long before I decided to re-grout my bathtub/shower and even before I started helping my sons make pinewood derby cars.  This morning at the gym, I saw a guy who was on the High Council during my church court hearing when I was disfellowshipped over eight years ago (I won’t go through that one again).  What’s weird is that I see him there all the time, and although I never talk to him, today I wanted to rip him a new one and call him an arrogant, self-righteous… well, you get the idea.

These emotions are unsettling to me because I’m generally a kind person with at least average patience.  So as the day has gone by, I’ve been thinking about how to approach this lesson and get past my mental state.

John 6:1-14

Jesus went up into a mountain and was teaching a group of more than 5000 disciples. It would seem that time went by when they realized it was time to eat and everyone was hungry.  No one in the group had really planned for this event; no one had enough money to go out and buy food for a group that size, and they were probably quite a ways from town.

Andrew pointed out that there was a boy with five barley loaves and two small fishes.  Although obviously inadequate for the need, this boy gave them to Jesus who gave thanks for them and distributed them to the disciples.  When all had eaten and were filled, the remaining fragments were gathered up so nothing would be wasted and they filled twelve basked with the fragments of the five barley loaves (they must have eaten all the fish – hey, that’s good protein there).

When I think of this passage, I think of the boy who had little to give but gave anyway.  And because of his generosity, at least 5000 other people were blessed. 

There are those who came before us who made the difficult journey that is coming to an understanding of what it means for them to be gay.

In those times when I feel completely frustrated and depressed with my situation of being married and the inner conflict of wanting to be there for my wife while also wanting to be with a man, I have had friends who offer encouragement and a non-judgmental listening ear.  The emotional toll is challenging.

Those who contribute to this blog and discussion are similar to the boy with the five loaves and two fishes.  Individually, it may not be a great amount, but as people read of your experiences and listen to your words of encouragement, it is not unreasonable to think that more than 5000 lives will be blessed.  What we say and do matters.

The music link I’ve chosen is the song, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  This arrangement was performed at BYU and recorded back in the 90s (a girl I went to college with is in the video; small world shout-out!).  This is one of the most beautiful arrangements of this song.  I sometimes sing this song to my children as they’re lying in bed before they go to sleep.  It is a song that offers me encouragement, and the sheer beauty of it elevates my mind and brings tears to my eyes.

PS. The bread photo was one I took myself :) .  I only wish I could say that about the guy photos…

* Today's lesson was prepared by UtahHiker801.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dear Anonymous: The Pearl of Great Price

“When he had found one pearl of great price, [he] went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”

~ Jesus, Matthew 13:45-46

Dear Anonymous,

In my concluding letter to you, I would like to write concerning some of your follow-up comments about where I and other commenters “are” with respect to the (LDS) Church, about what the Church means to gay Mormons, and a bit about what I call the “apostate label”.

Where Gays Are “At” With Respect to the Church

As has been pointed out by numerous commenters throughout the (relatively short) life of my blog, a gay (active/post/ex-/inactive/anything in between) Mormon’s relationship to the Church is often complicated. The reasons for this should be obvious (but perhaps are not to many members of the Church). Many gay Mormons* go through intense agony as a result of believing the sorts of false dichotomies that have been discussed in some of my previous letters, trying to remain true to what they have been taught, true to what they believe, yet true at the same time to themselves. 

     * I use the term “gay Mormons” to refer to any gay person who is or has been a member of the LDS Church.

After going through the trauma of coming to accept who and what they are, these persons often end up at very different places on the spectrum of Mormon belief, from desiring to retain full affiliation with the Church to complete rejection of not only the Church but any belief in God, period. In between these two extremes are many, many places where gay Mormons find themselves, either temporarily or permanently, or somewhere in-between.  Any attempt to “pigeon-hole” these gay Mormons, i.e., to presume to know/state their beliefs or their attitudes toward the Church, to generalize such beliefs or attitudes or to “paint” them either as black or white (when they are neither) - either by other Church members or even by other gay Mormons - is arrogant, patronizing and repugnant, as well as an exercise in futility.

Many gay Mormons would choose to remain in the Church if they could. But most feel driven out, either explicitly or implicitly, feeling that they simply cannot stay in a place where they are not welcome. 

And it is not only gays who are or feel driven out; in many instances, straight members of their family, such as their parents, feel they can no longer affiliate with a church that condemns their children and calls these good, loving, moral persons “depraved”, “impure” and “unnatural”. I have personally listened to long-standing “stalwart” members of the Church declare with sincerity and conviction that they can no longer affiliate with a Church that condemns their son or their daughter. I heard, just this past Sunday, such a member ask at a gathering how any gay or lesbian could possibly desire to remain active in a Church that condemns and rejects people because of their sexuality. 

At the same gathering, however, I heard another stalwart couple express their love for and desire to remain active in the Church, while at the same time acknowledging that the journey they have been on (presumably because of a gay son or lesbian daughter) has opened their minds and hearts to things they couldn’t have previously imagined. It shouldn’t need to be said, but I will point out that both of these scenarios involve extremely painful journeys that are almost as traumatic as those experienced by their gay loved ones.

I can almost hear you saying that the Church doesn’t drive anyone out; people choose to leave, or they are asked to leave because their lives are not in harmony with the teachings and commandments of the Church. I can almost hear you saying that the Church does not ask people to leave or take away “privileges” (e.g., temple recommends) simply because they are gay. 

The truth, however, is that it does. And despite what the headquarters of the Church teaches, the fact of the matter is that gay members of the Church are “handled” differently from ward to ward and stake to stake, depending on the attitudes and personalities of bishops and stake presidents. Some bishops and stake presidents are very tolerant and loving of gays; others, less so. That’s just the way it is. Which kind of says something not only about the ability of Church Headquarters to effect change at a local level but also about the conflicting “inspiration” that these various local church leaders receive concerning the same issues.

Alternative Approaches

So, what happens after gays are driven out of the Church, one way or the other? They end up at these various places on the spectrum of belief and participation. But, as Pablo, one of the commenters to my earlier letters, pointed out, “… deciding to leave the church behind is not the path to outer darkness that some in the Church believe it to be. Mormons still grappling with their views about gay people might find some unexpected enlightenment if they open, ever so slightly, the blinds that Mormon culture so often and so unfortunately places on the windows of the church and the homes of its members.”

They might learn, for example, about couples such as Trey and his partner. “I have a very loving, supportive, joy-filled relationship – with a man,” Trey wrote last week. “To you [Anonymous] that may appear repugnant. Our relationship is every much as beautiful as the best “love-at-home” Mormon family. We pray together, we go to church together; we live in harmony and mutual support. We feel God’s love and acceptance. LDS people think they have a monopoly on spirituality and on God’s blessings and acceptance. They generally have no idea concerning the breadth of God’s love.”

They might also learn that many gays have ended up in a place similar to that where many straight Mormons are found, i.e., a place that recognizes the difference between the “Gospel of Jesus Christ” and the “Church.”  Without getting into a tit-for-tat discussion that would not be useful, suffice it to say that many Mormon gays believe in the “Gospel,” but not so much in the Church. 

For example, a gay Mormon who is still active in the Church wrote in response to your original comment:  “I believe that when the Book of Mormon says that men are that they might have joy, it is speaking truth, both for this life as well as for eternity. As a gay man once married to a wonderful straight woman, raising tremendous children, serving in a variety of Church leadership positions, I never understood what joy was. I had happy moments, but in my trial never felt the joy that the Gospel is intended to bring. Since divorcing and actually being true to who I am [a gay man], I have amazingly experienced a fullness of joy EVERY day--joy so profound it often causes me to tremble with gratitude for a Father who loves me for who and what I am and is willing to share His Spirit with me in a profound and immutable way.

“ … It is so easy to live in a world constructed of cultural norms that is in reality antithetical to the teachings of the Gospel of Christ. Because it is easy, too many members of the Church choose to live in such a world of blacks and whites rather than a world of sunshine and rainbows as Heavenly Father intended. I'm grateful that God led me into a world of color and with it, a world of boundless joy.”

The Apostate Label: Argumentum ad hominem

Lastly, Anonymous, I’d like to refer to some of your subsequent comments. On three separate occasions, you stated that you wouldn’t have bothered posing your initial question if you had believed that I don’t believe “the LDS Church is the Lord’s true Church,” if I “disbelieve the Church,” or “believe the LDS Church to [not] be correct.  After all, you wrote, if such were the case, I would “have no problem going against [the Church’s] teachings and will likely not believe [I’m] giving anything up by doing so.”

On the surface, your comments seem fair and reasonable enough. But something lurks beneath the surface – at least in my view. For one thing, you weren’t quite sure where I was “at” with respect to the Church, and it appears you were intrigued by the concept of me being “believing”, yet still embracing homosexuality, and you wanted to try to “flush me out”.

Far more insidious, however, is the apparent attitude that believes that if someone is “apostate” – i.e., they no longer believe “the LDS Church is the Lord’s true Church,” or “disbelieves the Church” or “believes the LDS Church to [not] be correct,” then anything that person says, no matter how articulate, well-reasoned or substantiated by real experience, anything that person says can be dismissed as being tainted by apostasy; in other words, a classic ad hominem attack. In the Mormon world, if one can label a person on the other side of an argument an “apostate,” then the argument is over, so far as “faithful” members of the Church are concerned.  Such an attitude is, unfortunately, all too common within the Church today. 

But, just for the sake of argument, let’s consider your words for a moment. I assume that what you meant by your questions is, do I believe the LDS Church to be “true,” meaning, presumably, the only true and living church on the face of the earth with which the Lord is well-pleased. Or did you mean that the Church is the vessel of true principles? Or did you mean that the Church is the only organization that possesses, through the priesthood, the authority to act in the name of God? Or did you mean that what the Church teaches is “correct,” whereas other churches teach that which is incorrect?  What does it mean to say that the Church’s teachings on homosexuality are correct or incorrect?  Does that mean, do they reflect ultimate Truth?

I don’t mean to be facetious, Anonymous. In fact, I’m simply trying to make a point: “What is truth?”

I’m not going to “bear my testimony” here, Anonymous – at least not in a way to which you are accustomed – but I will say this: I believe in God. I know that He loves me. I believe that He made me the way I intrinsically am, and I know that He is fine with the “way I am.” I know that President Packer’s (original, unedited) statements at October General Conference were “incorrect”. They did not reflect ultimate Truth. (By the way, if you want to know how I, as well as others, “know” these things, read this post.) I also believe that the Church’s current “position” on homosexuality – to the extent there is a coherent one – is only that, i.e., a position that does not constitute revealed Truth or reflect ultimate Truth.


We have a term, Anonymous, that we use in the LDS Church. Other Christians use it, too, but to them it means something a little different that what it means to Mormons. The term:  the Pearl of Great Price. In the Mormon world, one tends to use it with reference to a volume of LDS scripture or as a reference to the “restored Gospel,” usually in the context of someone converting to the Church and “accepting” the “restored Gospel” (i.e., finding the pearl of great price).

Christians, however, typically refer to the term in context of a parable of the Savior’s: one must actively seek in life for that which is of supreme value (the pearl), and when one has found it, one must leave behind or sell everything one has accumulated to that point and purchase or obtain the pearl, which is extremely precious and costly.  In the narrowest sense, for most Christians, the “pearl” is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ himself

I would like to apply this parable to my own situation as a gay man who has finally come to terms with his sexuality. I have sought long and hard throughout my life for a “cure” for being gay, until I finally found the “pearl of great price” – the same pearl that others like me have found. What is this pearl? A knowledge and joyful acceptance – independent of any man, church or creed - of who I am and who I was created to be, together with the sure knowledge that God loves me and accepts me just the way I am.    

“Any life, no matter how long and complex it may be,
is made up of a single moment,
the moment in which a man finds out,
once and for all,
who he is.”

- Kahlil Gibran

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lenten Music: Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Agnus Dei

It has been called the saddest classical piece of music ever written.  It was played on the radio upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945 and was played at the funerals of Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy and Princess Grace of Monaco.  It has been featured in several well-known American movies, including as the soundtrack to an intimate scene in the gay film drama “A Very Natural Thing” in 1974 (Barber himself was gay), and was one of the few American compositions to be played regularly in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Samuel Barber composed his Adagio for Strings when he was only 25 years old and submitted it to Arturo Toscanini for possible performance.  It premiered in 1938 and soon captured the hearts of audiences around the world.

The piece is not a religious work, let alone a work typically associated with the liturgical season of Lent.  However, the appeal of this music has been so universal and has become so associated with death, mourning and contemplation of the human condition that I believe it is appropriate to include it in a classification of Lenten music. 

I personally believe this piece of music, more than any other, characterizes the spirit of the 20th century with its two world wars, the colossal death and destruction wrought by two of the greatest tyrants of all time, Hitler and Stalin, and the subsequent Cold War which brought the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation.  It evokes images of the suffering and struggling human spirit, as well as a very contemporary Savior of World atoning not only for our individual sins, but also for the collective sins of humanity in our modern age.  Thus, the use of the Salvadore Dali painting, Christ of St. John of the Cross, as the lead image, above, which evokes an image of a very contemporary Christ suffering for the whole world.

Because of its intense and broad appeal, Adagio for Strings was selected in 2001 for performance at the Last Night of the Proms in Royal Albert Hall in London, only a few days after the September 11th attacks.  Here is an unforgettable video clip of Leonard Slatkin conducting the BBC Orchestra in a performance on that occasion of this intensely beautiful piece of music:

Agnus Dei

In 1967, Barber transcribed the piece for 8-part choir as a setting for the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”).

The Agnus Dei is part of the Roman Catholic mass as well as the services of the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Church.  Based upon John the Baptist's reference in John 1:29 to Jesus ("Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world"), the text in Latin is:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

which means:

Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

If possible, Agnus Dei is even more hauntingly beautiful than the orchestral Adagio for Strings.  Here is a stunningly ethereal performance, with images highlighting the Lamb of God who atones and was slain for the modern world (including one of my favorite paintings of the Savior), by London Oratory School Schola and London Lads, featuring soloist Andrew Johnston (boy soprano featured on Britain’s Got Talent):

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has also performed Barber’s Agnus Dei. While on tour in Spain in 1998, the choir was invited to present a concert in the historic Basílica El Escorial near Madrid, where they performed the work.  Here is a video clip of that performance:

Lenten Reflections

“To be human is to be on a pilgrimage …”

This past Sunday, I attended a Catholic mass for the first time in over 25 years.  A friend had wanted to visit the Cathedral of the Madeleine, so I agreed to go along, if for no other reason than to hear their choir sing.

I was certainly not disappointed with the choir music.  But I was also blessed through other aspects of this worship service, not the least being the homily of the officiating priest.  He spoke of the three Lenten scripture readings used in that day’s mass, the first being the account of Abraham being called out of his native land to a new promised land.

With respect to this reading, he spoke of our lives being a pilgrimage: 

“One of the most fundamental insights of the Christian view of the world,” he said, “is that to be human is to be on a pilgrimage.  At any moment in our lives we are still on the way, still in process, still unfinished. 

“The image of pilgrimage has always helped Christians to understand the ever-changing aspects of their lives in a way that has meaning.  Christians do not believe that life is a pointless trip, a journey to nowhere.  It is a pilgrimage, which by definition means a holy journey to God’s Kingdom.  The journey may be difficult, painful, but it does have a gracious end.

“To be a pilgrim people helps explain why we are often so often unsatisfied with our achievements and feel ill at ease with where we find ourselves.  St. Augustine explained this unease by saying that God has made us so we will always yearn for something better, for something more.  In Augustine’s words:  ‘Lord you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.’  Human beings have pilgrim hearts, pilgrim souls.

“Like Abraham, we are always being called forth, always drawn beyond the present.  Something in us never allows us to settle down.  The Spirit who dwells in us keeps us restless, on the move; keeps us looking forward to a better place, a better destination.  Our eyes are always set down the road, over the mountains, on the edge of the horizon.”

To conclude this post, I am including the following video that features a performance of a piece sung by the Madeleine Choir at the mass which I attended this past Sunday:  the Agnus Dei from Josquin des Prez’ Missa Pange Lingua

I had never heard of des Prez, and upon looking him up discovered that he is considered the “first master of the high Renaissance style of polyphonic vocal music” and was regarded during his lifetime (spanning the latter half of the 15th century and the first quarter of the 16th century) as the greatest composer of his age.  Who knew?  (I certainly didn’t.)  The newly-enfranchised gay me wants to point out how good it feels to expand one’s knowledge and experience, to taste beautiful music such as this for the first time and be enriched by it!  That’s why I wanted to share it.